A regular and balanced diet mainly includes fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat. However, the term “meat” is where some people will change their path. If you are a vegan or vegetarian looking for a protein source that doesn’t require eating meat, we have a handy Guide to 22 meatless proteins that will give you various unique options.
Nature has provided us with amazing ingredients. These ingredients and food items are here to offer, the compounds and nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of your body and organs. The art of eating right involves a simple formula, i.e., a balanced diet with just the right amount of carbs, fats, protein and other nutrients.
Although all these compounds are essential for adequate working of the human body, protein is considered the “main building block” as every single cell, tissue, and organ in our body is made primarily of protein1. Without it, your body won’t work!
Protein in our food mainly comes from two sources – animal-based protein and plant-based protein2. Where animal-based includes red meat, poultry, and seafood, plant-based offers protein from vegetables, fruits, grains, and their derivatives. To make up protein in our body, we need nine essential amino. Luckily both animals and plants offer these nine amino acids. So, you can happily survive on either of these to fulfill your body’s protein requirement.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?
The right amount of protein required by our body depends significantly on a few variables like age, gender, overall body health, and activity. However, the Institute of Medicine has provided a clear limit and guidelines for an average healthy male and female.
According to the institute, about 10% of your daily diet should have protein of any source in it3. Moreover, if you are a healthy woman, you should eat about 45 grams of protein daily, and if you are a healthy man, you should consume about 56 grams daily. Anything less than this amount will result in fatigue or improper body functioning. Anything more than this amount will have other harmful effects.
Because we have so many options when it comes to both meat & meatless proteins, you can happily add these ingredients to your diet. And if you are a health enthusiast, you can plan your meals according to your body’s requirements. Some people refer to a nutritionist or a dietician to get help and customized meal plans. Even if you are a vegan or vegetarian, you can still find several ingredients that offer variety, flavor, and protein.
22 PLANT-BASED PROTEIN SOURCES
With some smart substitutions and planning ahead, transitioning from an omnivore diet to one that includes only plant-based proteins can be surprisingly easy. These meatless protein sources are readily available at grocery stores and super easy to include in your diet. Here are our top picks for 22 protein sources that will help keep your energy levels high:
Also known as bean curd, tofu is a widely used ingredient in vegetarian cooking. It can be substituted for meat or eggs in almost any recipe and is frequently used to make vegan dishes.
It comes from soybeans and is made by coagulating milk until it forms curds that are then pressed into blocks of varying firmness depending on how much water has been removed from them. The more water that is pressed out of the tofu, the firmer it becomes. There are several different types of tofu including silken (soft), medium-firm and firm varieties based on how much liquid they retain after pressing.
This condensed soy curd, aka tofu is widely used in Asian cuisine. 81 g of tofu contains about 14 g of protein. Plus, it is also rich in minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, etc. While many people avoid soy because they believe that it causes health problems such as acne or breast cancer (this has not been proven), there are plenty of health benefits associated with eating soy products like tofu!
They contain high amounts of protein which helps build muscles while also preventing disease by boosting your immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria as well as viruses.
Edamame is another soybean product. These are pods of immature soybeans and have a grassy flavor. 100 g of edamame contains approx. 11 g protein.
Edamame is a versatile protein source that can be eaten in a variety of ways. You can serve it as an appetizer or snack, add it to soups, salads and stir fries, or even use it as taco meat.
- Prepare on the stove top: Heat edamame in boiling water for 3 minutes or until tender. Drain and sprinkle with sea salt to taste.
- Microwave method: Place 1/2 cup of frozen edamame pods in a microwave-safe bowl with 2 tablespoons water; cover and cook on high power until tender (around 7 minutes). Season with fresh ground pepper if desired (optional).
However, beware if you have gluten allergies; seitan is not for you then.
Seitan a.k.a. wheat gluten or mock duck or vegan meat, is one of the most versatile foods in the vegetarian diet. Seitan comes from wheat gluten and is widely used in place of meat. 100g of seitan contains 25g protein. It has a firm texture that can be baked, steamed and stir-fried.
Although it doesn’t have much flavor on its own (and soaks up sauces like mad), seitan absorbs flavors well and holds its shape when prepared in any number of ways: sliced thin for sandwiches or cut into bite-sized pieces for soups or salads.
Seitan can easily be made at home by grinding together flour and water until smooth before adding salt to taste. Recipes vary depending on whether you’re making wheat gluten or vegetable protein (TVP) but they all follow this basic formula: 1 part flour plus 2 parts liquid equals seitan! This works out to about 6 cups of flour mixed with 3 cups of water for TVP versus 10 cups mixed with 4 cups for wheat gluten (which means less waste).
If you want to buy it rather than make it yourself, head over to your local Asian grocery store where you’ll find packets labeled “mock duck” or “vegetarian meat.” You may even see them alongside tofu blocks at regular supermarkets now—they’re relatively easy find nowadays!
4. Lentils and Beans
Different types of lentils are fantastic sources of protein. They have great flavor and are widely used in soups, curries, etc., 200 g of cooked lentils, which offer 18 g of protein and are also rich in fiber.
Lentils are a good source of protein, fiber, iron, magnesium and folate. These are all important nutrients to have on hand for a healthful diet. It’s also an excellent alternative to traditional pasta if you’re looking to cut down on carbs or boost your protein intake.
The only drawback with lentil pasta is that it doesn’t hold up well when cooked with other ingredients (like sauce) that can make the noodles mushy and soggy. If you’re willing to accept this caveat as part of your meal prep strategy then it’s definitely worth adding some lentils into your next dish!
You’re probably familiar with beans and legumes as a protein source. But did you know that they have so many other nutritional benefits? For example:
- Beans are a good source of fiber.
- Beans are a good source of vitamins and minerals like folate, iron and potassium.
- Beans contain antioxidants that help reduce the risk of certain diseases like cancer and heart disease. They also contain phytonutrients that may help boost your immune system or lower blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. And finally, beans contain omega-3 fatty acids which can help keep your heart healthy.
170 g of cooked beans contain about 15g of protein. Beans like red kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, etc., are also packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Plus they contain omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with better brain health and heart health.
6. Nutritional yeast
This ingredient is in powdered or flakes form. With a cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast is widely used in vegan cooking as a flavor enhancer. 16g of nutritional yeast offers 8g of protein.
Most people don’t use spirulina, but this blue-green alga is quite nutritional. It offers 8g protein per 14g serving.
Widely used in salads and as a side, a cup of cooked quinoa offers 8g of protein. Quinoa is one of the best vegetarian sources of protein. It’s also high in fiber, magnesium, iron, and vitamins B1, B6 and E. Many people object to quinoa because they think it’s not actually a true grain; however, the United States Food and Drug Administration has ruled that it is a whole grain.
Quinoa has several advantages over other grains as a source of protein:
- It contains all essential amino acids (the building blocks for proteins)
- It has more protein than any other grain
- Unlike most other grains which are hard unless cooked first then ground into flour or cracked open like wheat berries after cooking (wheat berries are still used to make bulgur), quinoa can be used raw as well as dried so you don’t need any equipment besides a pan or steamer basket!
9. Soy milk
Soy milk is a product that’s made from ground soybeans, water and a little bit of salt. It’s more commonly used as an alternative to cow’s milk in coffee or cereal, but can also be used to make vegan ice cream.
As non-dairy milk, soy milk is jam-packed with protein, vitamin D, and calcium; which are all important nutrients for vegetarians to get their diets balanced. Soy milk contains about 7 grams of protein per cup—the same amount as cow’s milk! It also contains iron (1 milligram per 8-ounce serving). In addition to being high in these essential nutrients, soy has been linked to lowering cholesterol levels because it binds bile acids (which help break down fat) so they don’t get reabsorbed by the body and add up over time.
10. Chia seeds
Another powerhouse, chia seeds, are rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.
11. Oats and Oatmeal
As a quick and effortless ingredient, oats are widely used in baking, making granola bars, and breakfast items. They are fiber-rich and contain 5g of protein per 40g. Oats, or oatmeal, are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Oat bran is high in soluble fiber, which is important for healthy digestion. It also contains B vitamins (B1 through B6), magnesium and iron. This makes oats an excellent food if you’re deficient in any of these nutrients. In addition to the nutritional benefits it provides for your body’s cells and organs (especially your heart), oats contain zinc—a mineral that plays an important role in many bodily functions including bone growth and immune health
12. Nuts & Seeds
These are a good source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants. They also contain minerals like magnesium and potassium that help regulate blood pressure. They are perfect snack to get instant energy. Be wary of sunflower seeds as it contain traces of cadmium. Eating too many seeds can be harmful to our kidneys.
Here are the top 10 nuts to add to your diet:
- Hazelnuts (filberts)
- Walnuts (English) or Persian (American)
- Brazils/Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Sunflower seeds
This soybean product uses heat and fermentation to break down the soybeans into a firm textured cake. The final product has a nutty, mushroom-like flavor and it used in many recipes that would call for meat or fish. Tempeh has more protein than tofu, making it an excellent choice for vegetarians or vegans looking to replace some of their animal proteins with plant-based options. Tempeh also contains fiber and B vitamins.
Mycoprotein is a protein made from Fusarium venenatum, a naturally occurring fungus.
To create mycoprotein, manufacturers ferment fungi spores along with glucose and other nutrients. The fermentation process is similar to what is used to create beer. It results in a doughy mixture with a meat-like texture that’s high in protein and fiber.
It is a great protein source. This fungus is usually a component in vegan burgers, cutlets, etc. (meat imitation dishes). It offers 15g of protein per 100g serving; however, some people might get allergies to it. Sold under the trademarked name Quorn, it’s available in various formats as a meat or chicken substitute.
15. Peanut Butter
It is a good source of protein, healthy fat and fiber. But it’s also high in calories—about 200 per tablespoon. Peanut butter is a great substitute for meat. One tablespoon has 8 grams of protein, which is a third of your daily recommended amount. It’s also one of the only vegan substitutes that has vitamin E and fiber, so it can be used as a healthy snack on its own or spread over toast or waffles.
The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 16 ounces of peanut butter each week if you’re trying to limit your total fat intake to less than 65 grams per day; people who have diabetes should limit their intake even more because they’re at greater risk for heart disease.
Using light, reduced-calorie or unsweetened peanut butters helps reduce calories, sugar and sodium levels. Some brands add artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose that may be harmful over time; check the ingredients list before buying if you’re concerned about artificial sweeteners.
16. Leafy greens
Spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and potatoes are loaded with protein and make up a great side dish that is great in both flavor and nutrients.
17. Green peas
One cup of cooked green peas has eight grams of protein, along with 1.6 grams each of fiber and vitamin C. The vegetable is also an excellent source of manganese (1 milligram) and folate (42 micrograms). Manganese helps your body absorb iron; folate helps prevent birth defects such as neural tube defects (NTDs).
18. Green beans
A cup of boiled green beans contains 7 grams of protein—and that’s just one way to prepare them! If you prefer steamed or grilled green beans over boiled ones, they’ll still provide similar amounts of nutrients while adding fewer calories per serving size than other forms do to your plate. In addition to those seven grams, cooked green beans are also good sources for vitamin K (22 percent DV), vitamin C (6 percent DV), magnesium (5 percent DV) and potassium (2 percent)!
An eggplant contains about 20 calories, 1 gram of protein and 3 grams of fiber per cup. Potassium, vitamin C and A are also good sources of the vegetable. The fleshy part of an eggplant is actually a fruit, but unlike most fruits it’s a low-carbohydrate food with only 7 grams per cup. You can stuff it like a veggie or cook it in any number of ways—eggplant has no taste so you can add anything you like to give it flavor!
They are a good source of protein, low in calories and contain no fat. Mushrooms also provide fiber and vitamin D. However, mushrooms are not likely to be your sole source of nutrients as they do not contain a significant amount of iron or zinc.
In addition to containing protein, mushrooms also provide selenium which plays an important role in immune function. Selenium is important for thyroid hormone production, antioxidant protection, and the maintenance of healthy skin cells.
This vegetable is one of the highest in protein and has significantly more than most vegetables. A medium sized artichoke (about 128 gms) has 4.2 gms of protein. It’s also low in calories, making it an ideal food when you want to lose weight.
Asparagus provides high levels of protein but very few calories—making it a great option when trying not only vegetarianism but also cutting back on calories without feeling deprived. Just half a cup (90 grams) of cooked asparagus contains 2.2 grams of protein.
Other vegetables worth a mention
Spinach: It is incredibly rich in iron and fiber, which can help prevent heart disease and promote better digestion. It also contains plenty of vitamins C and A, as well as folate and potassium—all great for keeping your body healthy!
Broccoli: Like spinach, broccoli is full of nutrients like calcium, iron, folate and vitamin C that are great for improving your overall health. You can also use broccoli to make a delicious pesto sauce if you don’t want the pasta version on hand!
Root vegetables such as these are also an excellent source of vitamin C (which plays an important role in blood clotting) and folate (a B vitamin that is essential for DNA production). They’re also abundant in minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc — all essential for good health.
While parsnips, carrots, and rutabagas may not immediately come to mind when you think of protein-rich foods, they are actually excellent sources of the nutrient.
Remember that it can take some time for your body to adjust to new food sources and types of protein, so be patient with yourself as you go through the process. Don’t forget about other important nutrients like iron or calcium either—make sure that your diet includes plenty of variety from non-meat sources such as nuts, beans/legumes (including tofu), soy products like tempeh or edamame beans; quinoa (and other whole grains); nuts/seeds; fruits and vegetables; etc. We also recommend talking with your doctor before you make any big changes to ensure that there are no health concerns involved.
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